A self-described "militant atheist" has severely attacked and physically beaten a pastor following his sermon at an Ohio church Sunday after the pastor attempted to give the man and his girlfriend relationship advice. The suspect has since been arrested and charged with an assault felony and a misdemeanor charge for resisting arrest. However, despite the frightening attack the pastor has said he believes there is still hope for his attacker.
Police say 28-year-old James Maxie was confrontational and interruptive while attending the service held by the Rev. Norman Hayes at Bridge Community Church in North Hampton Sunday morning. After the service, Hayes reportedly asked Maxie's girlfriend if she felt safe in her partner's company. This question infuriated Maxie so intensely that he began beating the pastor, ultimately breaking his nose in two places and leaving massive three to six inch cuts over his eyes and behind his ear. Maxie then fled the church to a nearby corn field, but was later apprehended by police while hiding behind a house.
Hayes told the Dayton Daily News following the incident that he feared for his life during the intense beating and was happy it stopped when it did, as he honestly felt he could have died had he been beaten more. Still, in spite of the intense violence Hayes encountered, the pastor told the local news outlet he hopes Maxie finds peace in the future.
"We believe there is hope for everyone," Hayes said, "but we also believe that regardless of that, people need to pay for what they have done, and I hope he has to pay for what he has done. Get put away for a while and not hurt anyone else. In my opinion, the next person won't be as lucky as I was."
Hayes went on to say that during Maxie's arraignment, the attacker seemed like he was genuinely sorry. A judge granted the pastor a restraining order against Maxie. "I think he probably was sorry for the situation he was in. I think it is very easy to be sorry in that environment in front of a judge. Hopefully, he will be able to find forgiveness and new hope and some answers for his life," Hayes said.
Maxie reportedly describes himself on his Facebook page as a "militant atheist," and had made comments about Hitler and religion to Hayes prior to Sunday's service. The 28-year-old has a history of criminal activity, including prison time for a previous assault charge and charges for cruelty to animals. In addition, the young man is a convicted sex offender.
Police Chief Jarrod Campbell told the Associated Press that he has never in his line of work seen an incident so brutal, especially in a place of worship. "Churches are somewhere where people go to worship their particular religion, and violence is usually the last thing you see," Campbell told the AP.
Maxie is being held at the Clark County Jail on a $51,000 bond.